March 13, 2023

Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome

Written by Nancy Cooper
Illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
March 2023
It may be a reunion of beavers, but Amik's little sister Nishiime is a little anxious. What should she expect from all these beavers coming from far and wide?
From Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome by Nancy Cooper, illus. by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
From the East and the far West, from the North and the South, Amik's cousins arrive and are welcomed. They bring gifts from their regions, whether a woven headband or berries in a basket, all generous and all received with gratitude. But Nishiime is nowhere to be found.
From Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome by Nancy Cooper, illus. by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
As the beavers go looking for Nishiime, Amik asks the deer, fish, fox, and otters if they've seen her. Though none have seen her, they all acknowledge the help that the beavers' activities have fortuitously provided them. Whether it's being able to reach the leaves of felled trees, or channels to swim in, a bridge to cross, or feeding in shallow waters created by dams, all the animals are appreciative.
From Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome by Nancy Cooper, illus. by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
It's not until the cousins are preparing to head home that Nishiime comes out of hiding, revealing the reason for her apprehension, and recognizing it as unfounded.

Using beavers to tell her tale, Nancy Cooper reminds us that, though we might come from different places and have different families, we are more alike than we might expect. Nishiime almost misses out on meeting her beaver cousins because of her fears; fortunately, she finally recognizes that though they might wear different markings, jewelry, and clothes, and all have different names–Amik is Anishinaabe, Amisk is Cree, Gopit is Mi'kmaq, Amicos is Algonquin, Kigiaq is Inuktitut, Qowut is Ayajuthum and Tsyennìto is Kanyen-kéha Mohawk–they are all beavers. Moreover, Amik and her family have been making everyone feel welcome, including the different species of animals. In a story about diversity and acceptance of differences, Nancy Cooper also reminds us of the interrelationship of living things. The message of connectedness and acceptance may be subtle and very organic, but it is convincing. 
The Woodland illustrations of Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, an Ojibwe artist, take us into that woodland to see these stylized animals in lush beaver habitats of land and water. From forests of birch and poplar, to dammed waters below striking sunsets of orange and turquoise, the artwork of Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, whose earlier book Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh/This is How I Know made an enormous splash with its Woodland style, brings an appreciation of the natural world of the beaver and other animals. Still, Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley always reminds us with small details like beaded bracelets, a Mi'kmaq peaked cap or a medicine pouch that this is a story based in Indigenous cultures and its teachings are even more profound because of its heritage.
Biindigen! Amik Says Welcome is a fresh picture book in language (a glossary of Anishinaabe and other words is included) and art, and its messages about acceptance and gratitude will make it a welcome addition to any bookshelf.

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